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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Donald Pittenger on Illustration
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Friday, March 25, 2005


Donald Pittenger on Illustration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm pleased to report that our friend Donald Pittenger continues to respond to my proddings and coaxings. His new mini-memoir/essay concerns a great topic: illustration and fine art. As ever, Donald's reminiscences and ruminations raise all kinds of juicy questions. For instance: it's a simple fact of life that illustrators are often far more skillful as craftspeople than contempo fine artists are. What's to be made of this? What, more generally, is the role of technique and skill in the visual arts? Further lines of inquiry: most of us who get hooked on looking-at-visuals start off with the commercial and popular arts -- CD jackets, ads, magazines ... How and why are we led from such interests and pleasures into the Fine Arts? Is Fine Art a better thing, or just a different game? Given the wealth of hyper-talented, striking visual material that the commercial world generates, why should we bother with Fine Art at all? These are just a few of the questions Donald's essay set off for me, anyway. I think many readers will find the piece as informative and provocative as I did. Please be sure to click on the images; most are pop-ups. Donald's previous Guest Postings can be seen here, here, and here. *** Fine Art and Illustration by Donald Pittenger I've enjoyed looking at well-executed pictures since childhood. But Iím surprised I didnít curb this early enthusiasm, especially as a youth. You see, youth is when one is most susceptible to subtle pressures in the form of High Culture expectations regarding Proper Art Consumption. Yet somehow I never felt guilty about savoring drawings by Austin Briggs, Noel Sickles and their ilk: mere illustrators, not in the Pantheon of Fine Art. Worse, in the early part of their careers they actually drew comic strips!! (For the record, Sickles did the aviation strip "Scorchy Smith" and Briggs took over "Flash Gordon" from Alex Raymond. Later they became illustrators and their work appeared in major publications such as Life and Saturday Evening Post.) By Austin Briggs By Noel Sickles Sometimes illustrators themselves felt the High Culture heat. Here's a quote from a letter sent by famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth to Sidney Marsh Chase, an artist friend (originally quoted on page 171 of David Michaelis' book "N.C. Wyeth: A Biography", Knopf, New York, 1998): "Painting and illustration cannot be mixed -- one cannot merge into the other. The fact is you have got to drop one absolutely before attempting the other." From the context of Michaelis' book, this was written around 1910 when Wyeth was in his late 20s and embittered after a falling-out with his teacher and mentor Howard Pyle. Although he had to illustrate to support his family and enjoyed the act of illustrating, Wyeth kept trying to prove himself as a Painter (capital-P) for the rest of his life. Wyeth the illustrator My take from the biography is that one thing that distinguished illustration for Wyeth was an imperative... posted by Michael at March 25, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments





Thursday, March 24, 2005


Mini-Memoir Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Yahmdallah's latest minimemoir about his long-ago dating days made me smile a half a dozen times and even laugh out loud. Why hasn't FoxTV contacted Yahmdallah to purchase the rights to these tales? What a Tivo-able sitcom they'd make. * Missgrundy writes a sweet and touching memoir of her very challenging father, a man whose passion for performing may have equaled his devotion to his family. * Searchblog has been enjoying a flirtatious, raucous mood, recalling her farout days as a rock chick, and donning an elegant outfit to wear to the current Salvador Dali show. * Outerlife -- master of the mini-memoir -- wonders why some guys fixate on one female bodypart when females offer such a range of attributes and wonders to enjoy. * Tatyana sends along a link to Maccers's account of life as a New York City virgin, whore, and spinster. Maccers spares no prisoners, to understate matters by a lot. If you're a parent with a girlchild who fantasizes about the glamor of life in the bigcity, you might want to slip her a copy of this posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 24, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments




Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * City Comfort's David Sucher finds a prefab that pleases him. Guest-poster Laurence Aurbach is appalled by the winner of a recent competition for Alaska's capitol building. * I find loose libertarianism -- of the less-interference-is-usually-better variety -- very congenial. But the hardcore variety often strikes me as the religion of a bizarro cult, and its adherents a crowd of Martians, as bugeyed with fervor about The Truth as any Marxist. Robert Locke's AmConMag takedown of hardcore libertarianism is the best one I've ever read. * "In journalism, diversity is a club the left uses to increase the hiring of lefties," writes Debra Saunders. (Link thanks to John Ray.) * Arnold Kling thinks that we're fooling ourselves if we think that we can reduce medical costs significantly by attacking waste and fraud. He goes on to argue that the main reason American health-care costs so much is that it's worth it. We're paying what it costs to get better health care, in other words. * Steve Sailer's current Vdare column is a big-picture, sum-it-all-up wonder. Nice visuals too. * One of the convictions many of the lefties I've known have been attached to is this: that, if only the True Nature of Things could be contacted and released, the Real People would emerge as the good leftists that they of course are, deep inside. This conviction may or may not reflect the facts in some countries or regions. But it strikes me as completely mistaken where heartland America is concerned. Touch the deep unconscious of a mid-American and you'll usually set free a conservative. I enjoyed reading this talk by The Economist's John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, who seem to agree with me. * James Kunstler has long predicted that an energy crisis is about to commence. With oil at record and near-record prices, perhaps it's worth considering that he may be onto something. How much of a difference will the Bushies' recent resolution to drill for oil in Alaska make? Not much, answers Kunstler. Kunstler has written a new book about the energy situation. It'll be published very soon, and it promises to attract a lot of notice and stir a lot of debate. * Another upcoming policy book I'm looking forward to: Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel's One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance. Sommers and Satel are two of the rare women academics who are sensible about sex and sex differences. Sommers' recent article about the Larry Summers-Harvard brouhaha is typically sensible and incisive. * Did you know that "Star Trek"'s Leonard Nimoy is a serious art-photographer? He's also into Jewish spirituality of the Goddess sort, and you can see evidence of both passions in the photographs that he shows off at his website. Here's a soulful nude. Nimoy talks with BeliefNet here about his latest photography show. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 24, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments





Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Goodbye, Kim Possible
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: Escapist entertainment plays a not inconsiderable role in my mental equilibrium. Iím a depressive who owns his own business, a calling with more or less constant emotional ups and downs. I use fairly regular injections of escapist entertainment to keep me on an even keel. I like high culture as well as if not better than most people, but at 2:00 a.m. when Iím lying in bed awake worrying about some problem in my business, Shakespeare or Sophocles isnít going to calm me down and put me back to sleep. Escapist entertainment will do exactly that. On several occasions when Iím found myself awake in the middle of the night reading some light fiction, it has occurred to me that the people Iíve known who either despised or affected to despise escapist entertainmentóIím thinking of several of my more high-minded teachers hereómay not have taken nearly enough risks in their careers. Of course, business is hardly the scariest part of life. Since Iíve hit fifty Iíve found that what keeps me awake at night is a different issue. Apparently some part of my brain is obsessed with trying to figure out exactly what I should be doing with the years remaining to me. (Obviously, they will add up to a shorter interval than the one Iíve already rather heedlessly burned through, and thus constitute a painfully finite quantity of time.) What this review of my prospects has turned up is fairly simple. I frankly donít so much mind dying per se, but I do mind not having about 200 years or so of parenthood to look forward to. If thereís a better life than coming home to a houseful of kids and a reasonably happy marriageóI canít say as Iíve either found it or even heard rumors about it. Nonetheless, my preferences are unlikely to be determinative here. My eldest daughter just took her SATs and is deep into planning her college career. The first cracks in the edifice of my happy home life have already appeared. This no doubt explains my taste in escapist entertainment. To wit, Iím quite fond of works that mimic the dynamics of a family. For example, I remain a devoted middle-of-the-night reader of Rex Stoutís Nero Wolfe books. In a series of 79 novels and short stories that began in the depths of the Depression, Stoutówho was, astonishingly, nearly fifty when the first Wolfe novel was publishedómanaged to keep a small cast of characters, many of whom lived in a single New York brownstone, intact and arguing with each other for four decades. Here the Ďnuclear familyí was centered around Nero Wolfe, the orchid-fancying great (as well as greatly overweight) detective himself, who hardly ever left his house despite a constant need to earn large sums of money. Other Ďfamily membersí included Wolfeís bodyguard and chief investigator Archie Goodwin who narrated the stories with a rather snappy hard-boiled wit, and Wolfeís full-time chef, Fritz, whose culinary gifts were... posted by Friedrich at March 23, 2005 | perma-link | (30) comments




Thom Mayne/Quinlan Terry
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As I'm sure you've read, the architecture world's most prestigious award, the Pritzker Prize, has been given to Thom Mayne, an L.A. architect known for 1) not having been able to build much until recently; and for 2) the aggressive, tearing-it-down/blowing-it-up quality of the work he has been able to build. Here's an L.A. Times article about Mayne, with a link to a slideshow of Mayne's work. It's a surprisingly frank piece: There is nothing traditionally beautiful or explicitly welcoming about his designs. "I'm interested in conflict and confrontation," Mayne said. His buildings, often cloaked in canted or folded metal screens, giving them a dramatic silver-gray cast, have a muscular presence. They use fragmented forms to express the anomie of contemporary life ó and of sprawling, centerless Los Angeles in particular ... Although Mayne tends to describe his architecture as progressive and optimistic, others see its forms as alienating, even nihilistic. To the walkways suspended above the playground of the Science Center School in Exposition Park, finished last year, Mayne added metal screens that from certain angles resemble blades, their chiseled edges pointing straight down over kindergartners' heads. Bring on the anomie! How strange that mainstream architecture endorses the work of someone who builds as though traditional beauty and comfort need to be renounced. I couldn't help noticing how many of Mayne's buildings are public buildings: courthouses, Federal buildings, schools. Which means, of course, that your tax dollars and my tax dollars are subsidizing architecture that's found by many taxpayers to be alienating and off-putting. Wouldn't it be lovely if there were someone we could not only protest to, but vote out of office? But what strikes me most as I read about Mayne is the '60s-generation quality, both of his work and of the man. (I've never visited any of his buildings in person and I've never met the man. Still, why not take a few swings?) Mayne's work attacks the rigidities of International Modernism but only to arrive at a more fragmented kind of modernism. Mayne himself is eager to speak about his divorced parents, his years in psychoanalaysis, and the influence of such '60s icons as the Kennedys and Black Power on his thinking. To my mind, his architecture expresses a deeply-held, sputtering-crybaby conviction that someone ought to pay for his miseries. Too bad that someone turns out to be us. In the photos that accompany this Metropolis visit with Mayne from 2003, the skin-tearing, eye-poking quality of his work is plain to see. (Am I the only person who finds that the typical Mayne building looks like a kitchen appliance with half its shell torn off?) So is the grandstanding, self-adoring, high-pitched personal psychodrama. It's the '60s all over again, and not at its best. Some excerpts from Metropolis: Mayne did build several small projects--mostly homes and restaurants--for the architectural cognoscenti, but, he says, this time was immensely frustrating. He would scream at clients and became famous for his explosive... posted by Michael at March 23, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments





Monday, March 21, 2005


Taranto x 2
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Much of my anti-liberal animus, or at least my suspicion of liberal hypocrisies, comes from the fact that I am one, more or less. At least historically. I suppose I am harder on what I take to be "my own kind", thinking that they/we ought to know better. That stance, implying as it does that red staters are The Great Unwashed and don't know any better, is of course snobbish in its own way. But that's what I observe of my own hypocricies. Problem is, as time has gone by I've grown quite fond of conservatism, or at least those aspects of it that I think of as principled. And as I have moved closer in terms of emotional and mental affiliation, I find myself snorting as loudly when I see conservative cant as I did when liberal cant was all-too-apparent. The Schiavo kerfuffle, which I wrote about below, is a good case in point. And speaking of "kerfuffle", James Taranto's favorite word, Taranto has himself weighed in from the Right on Schiavo, and it ain't pretty. Taranto's argument, like the Journal's editorial, doesn't bother with law or facts. Instead, he seems content smearing Michael Schiavo as an near-adulterer, incapable of making a decision as guardian relative to his wife's condition. Taranto's conclusion is ridiculous: If he (Michael) wishes to assert his marital authority to do his wife in, the least society can expect in return is that he refrain from making a mockery of his marital obligations. The grimmest irony in this tragic case is that those who want Terri Schiavo dead are resting their argument on the fiction that her marriage is still alive. This is an argument? There is a principle lurking somewhere in this tripe? No, it's a sickening play to the rafters. Later in his column, Taranto writes about Middlebury College's inviatation to Rudy Giuliani to be its commencement speaker. He treats the issue in the usual fashion: silly lefty academics don't get it. In his zeal to propagandize, however, I think he misses a few salient points not in keeping with the standard spin. First, Middlebury College actually invited Giuliani to be commencement speaker. I think that's noteworthy in its own right. Second, take a look at this unofficial poll of Middlebury students: Iím excited. I think (Giuiliani's) great and embodies the spirit of 9/11 (54%) Heíll be fine. Itís not really that big of a deal anyway (17%) I hate it. He is a prime example of what is wrong with Republicans (29%) A majority really likes the idea; almost three-quarters endorse it. Less than 30% tows the party line. Conservatives are right about the liberal persuasion on campuses, at least as far as conventional wisdom is concerned. But the picture is getting more complicated, in part due to conservative action, and the story line keeps changing. Best, Fenster P.S. More on that shifting ground, here.... posted by Fenster at March 21, 2005 | perma-link | (24) comments




Schiavo: We Report; You Decide
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Following the Terri Schiavo case? How can you not? The respective sides are summarized quite well in these two places: a Wall Street Journal editorial and a blog article from Obsidian Wings. No surprise--the WSJ editorial is billed as the case for life, or maybe "life". Obsidian Wings makes . . . well, not the case for death, exactly, but the case for patient autonomy under current law. Unless I am missing something--and the 2Blowhards readership is often good at finding just such nuggets--Obsidian Wings makes mincemeat of the WSJ view, which comes across as necessarily vague and hazy, owing to the fact that the facts do not seem (to me, at any rate) support the argument for "life". Obsidian Wings summarizes the facts compellingly and persuasively. What does the Journal have, really, in response? No facts. No arguments from precedent or law. Just the usual drumbeat: liberals, as with gay marriage, have hijacked the public process and using it for their own, elite, ends. And the people will be heard. Now, I'd agree with the Journal if the issue were gay marriage. Humans, including liberals, have a tendency to want what they want, and do not always select the most prudent path in accomplishing their aims. While a consensus may well develop over time in favor of gay marriage, we are not yet in that spot, and judicial efforts to direct the public on a fundamental question of values should be contested. Alas poor Journal, the issues framed in the Schiavo case are miles from the issues framed with respect to gay marriage. To wit, I'd bet a dollar that the current law and practice relative to patient autonomy, as detailed in Obsidian Wings, in fairly representative of social consensus. You have only to see how the Congressional supporters of re-inserting the feeding tube have had to dissemble and prevaricate. That alone is an indication that they do not believe their actual argument would survive in the sunlight of open discussion. It's a mistake, substantively and politically, to try to fit this issue into a one-size-fits-all tirade about liberal elites. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at March 21, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments